Five things to look for as we close out September:
1. Ryan Mallett versus the Alabama defense: A year ago the Arkansas quarterback was simply overwhelmed when the Hogs went to Alabama. He completed only 12 of 35 passes, was sacked three times and rushed eight others. The result was a 35-7 victory by Alabama. Now Mallett has the confidence of winning an SEC game on the road (where he was 0-4 last season). He threw for 380 yards against Gerogia and won the game on a last-second touchdown pass. Will he be able to handle what Alabama’s defense is going to throw at him Saturday in Fayetteville?
2. Streaks by Florida and Kentucky: There have been some close calls along the way, but Florida has beaten Kentucky 23 straight times heading into Saturday’s showdown in the Swamp. Kentucky has played token opposition in its first three games but has not turned the ball over once. That’s hard to do even against tall grass. Will either of those streaks come to an end on Saturday? I don’t imagine Kentucky’s turnover streak will stay intact against a defense that already has 10 interceptions this season.
3. A showdown of great freshman running backs: Saturday’s game between South Carolina and Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium will feature two of the brightest young stars in the SEC. Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina has carried it 70 times in three games (including 37 against Georgia) for 333 yards. Another freshman running back, Michael Dyer at Auburn, is starting to assert himself with the Tiger offense. Some folks have compared these two youngsters to Herschel and Bo (no last names needed). It’s way too early for that. These guys are good, but not sure they are in Herschel and Bo territory.
4. Is LSU starting to put things together? The Tigers still look pretty ugly on offense but the defense, after getting torched for over 400 yards passing in the opener with North Carolina, is starting to look strong. John Chavis’s group forced five interceptions last week against Mississippi State and some of them were great athletic plays (by the way, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is the best football player I’ve seen this year.) LSU has a non-conference game with West Virginia on Saturday and Tennessee comes to Baton Rouge next week. Win them both and LSU will be 5-0 going to Florida on Oct. 9. Have I written off LSU too early?
5. Ole Miss is in a “must win” situation against Fresno State: The Rebels got embarrassed by Division I-AA Jacksonville State on Sept. 4. They slopped their way to a win at Tulane on Sept. 11. Then they just got gashed by Vanderbilt in Oxford 28-14 last week. It would be easy to blame bad karma because the Rebels took troubled quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. But the fact is that the defense has not been doing the job. Ole Miss is ninth in the SEC in total defense and rushing defense. The front seven was supposed to be the strength of this team. They had better beat Pat Hill’s Bulldogs on Saturday because the next for games for Ole Miss (1-3) are with Kentucky (3-0), Alabama (3-0), Arkansas (3-0) and Auburn (3-0).
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